This rugged and natural fortress was used by Cochise and his people during the Apache Wars.
Cochise Stronghold is a natural area located within the Dragoon Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The rugged canyon located in the central portion of the range became the fortress and hideout for Chircahua-Apache Chief, Cochise and his band of warriors.
The story begins with the turbulent history between local Apache tribes and the United States Army Troops. In 1850, the United States took control of the area that would later be known as the Arizona Territory. Initially, Cochise and his band of Chiricahua-Apaches were not hostile to the encroaching soldiers and settlers. Quite the opposite rather as he would supply firewood and other supplies to those settled in the area.
Everything changed in 1861. Increasing hostilities with both Mexican and American settlers would lead to the culmination of peace and outbreak of all out war. On February 5th, 1861, Cochise met with U.S. Army Lt. George N. Bascom near the stage station at Apache Pass in the Chiricahua Mountains. Bascom and an infantry group from Ft. Buchanan were dispatched to resolve the robbery of livestock from a Sonoita ranch and the kidnapping of a young boy that occurred a week earlier. This robbery & kidnapping had actually been committed by the Tonto Apaches. Upon meeting, Cochise told Bascom that he did not know about the incident. However, doubting Cochise’s story, the leader and his brother and nephews (whom he had brought with him in case of trouble) were imprisoned in a tent onsite.
Cochise quickly escaped. A few days later he and other Apaches attacked the encampment and took Americans hostage which he would use as leverage to free his family. Cochise retreated to Mexico killing the hostages along the way. Cochise’s family was subsequently hung a few days later near Apache Pass. This ignitined an all out war with Cochise who at this point, had joined forces with Mangas Colorades, his father-in-law, who was also the chief of another group of Apaches.
With the onset of the Civil War, the U.S. Army was now tasked with not only fending off the attacking Apaches, but also securing the Arizona & New Mexico Territories from spreading groups of Confederate soldiers. In early 1862, 2500 union troops from the California Column stationed in Yuma headed east towards Tucson. After engaging with confederates north of Tucson in the Battle of Picacho Peak (April 15), the troops continued east slowly. After securing the water source at Dragoon Springs, the group continued east towards the Chiricahuas. The next goal was to secure the spring at Apache Pass.
On July 15th 1862, a 100 man detachment pushed east and climbed through Apache Pass. At this point, they were ambushed by 160 Apache Warriors led by Cochise and Mangas. The guerilla style ambush caught the U.S. Army completely off-guard and unprepared, as they were tired from a long days march. Intense fighting ensued. The troops withdrew slightly and regrouped as they prepared their mountain howitzers, or large canons, for an attack. The Union Troops pushed forward, capturing hills around and eventually taking cover in the now abandoned stage station. The howitzer guns, once placed in the right position proved to be a huge advantage. The Apache held their position until nightfall before retreating. The Apaches launched a brief attack the next morning but were quickly turned around by artillery fire. Surprisingly, only 2 Army troops were killed. The Apache suffered heavier loses having 66 casualties.
The next day, nine scalped white civilians were found east of Apache Pass. This, in combination with recent fighting, led to the creation of Fort Bowie. This would help establish a permanent and substantial military force in the area. While the Confederates had been pushed back to Texas at this point, the Apache were still a viable threat. With the Butterfield Overland Route closed two years prior and moved further north, settlers in this area felt at risk.
In 1863, Mangas was captured and killed in New Mexico by U.S. Troops. This left Cochise in charge of the Chiricahua-Apache tribe. Cochise and 1,000 of his followers (which contained around 250 warriors) were forced to retreat west across the Sulphur Springs Valley. Cochise took hold of the rocky domes of the Dragoon Mountains. This area is now known as Cochise Stronghold. Cochise used this to protect his followers and elude U.S. Calvary advancements in the years following. Hostilities remained high as numerous skirmishes and raids took place in the area.
Peace finally came in 1872 and Cochise eventually moved to the Chiricahua Reservation in 1874 where he died. His son became the new chief of the Chiricahua-Apaches. Cochise was buried at an unknown location within the Stronghold. Today, the area is a popular destination for hikers, rock climbers, and campers. To reach Cochise Stronghold, head 7 miles west from the town of Sunsites on Ironwood Road.
Informational signs posted along the hike to Fort Bowie, National Park Service.
“Bascom Affair.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bascom_affair.
“Battle of Apache Pass.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Apache_Pass.
“Apache Wars.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 June 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Wars.
“Cochise.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochise.